I recently visited a handful of death row prisons in North Carolina and Virginia. I know there are better vacation options, including ones with more sun and bikinis and boats.
Many inmates are starved for information. They are not allowed to access the internet or have cell phones. I was bringing books with me to the prisons. Not even great, erudite, brilliant books by Socrates and Sir Isaac Newton. Just plain old paperbacks where detectives try to figure out who stole the jewelry or travelers attempt to colonize a distant planet.
Just your average dusty tomes from someone’s dingy basement shelf.
Sometimes the prisons thank us. Sometimes the prisons don’t thank us. Either way, we know we are doing the right thing.
The walls inside a death row prison are all gray. The bars and doors are cold, even in the summer. The windows have wire mesh running through them. Gates do not open until some hidden person buzzes them opened. Elevators do not function until remotely acted upon by some unseen prison guard.
After a few visits to these ancient entrapment systems, you begin to wonder, “What are prisons?”
In my opinion, they are well-constructed, tax-funded, time capsules. If you have ever wanted to visit ancient times, prison is your time tunnel to the past.
Prisons are impermeable bubbles that keep out history and change and technology.
Humanity’s antiquated ideas are preserved inside for all time. These include tribalism, racism, brutality, and sexism.
But if you are nostalgic for some of humanity’s past, perhaps you should rethink it. From where I stood inside the barbed wire and cages, parts of it don’t look so great.
But our books will find their way into the hands of inmates. And that is a success story, even if we didn’t change the world.
For more information about our nonprofit, please visit http://thepopproject.org/.